For reasons I have never understood, Ronald Reagan has a positive reputation among Americans.
I’ll grant you that he is the only Republican president of the past 60 years whose term in office didn’t end in defeat, disgrace, or both. But why a dithering old bigot who ignored AIDS, created the homelessness crisis, and unleashed hell in Central America is regarded as some kind of folksy icon of freedom is beyond me.
One of Reagan’s “accomplishments” was the introduction of trickle-down economics, which holds that tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves by expanding the economy, thus increasing government revenues. But 40 years of research have proven that this has never worked—not even once.
However, that “has not stopped Republicans from passing repeated tax cuts for the wealthy, one as recently as December 2017.”
You might remember that last one as Trump’s sole legislative victory. In four years, the guy had one significant win, and that consisted of giving rich people more money.
As we all know, this tax cut did not help anybody but the well-off, and by the end of Trump’s term, the economy was in ruins.
But I’m sure the next tax cut for the wealthy will be the one that finally works. Yup.
In any case, the Republican predilection for magical thinking isn’t a recent phenomenon. You see, way back in the 1980s, “when government computers showed that President Ronald Reagan’s first tax cut would explode the deficit, the budget director simply reprogrammed them.”
Think about that. As early as Reagan’s first term, Republicans were already dismissing facts that upset them. The GOP was learning that when the truth doesn’t align with opinion, you don’t change the opinion—you change the truth.
And that’s why many political experts say that “under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for facts began to take over the GOP.”
Indeed, conservative belief in objective reality didn’t last long after the Gipper’s term in office. By the 1990s, the GOP was denying climate change. A decade later, we invaded Iraq because Republicans felt in their gut that WMDs were there. A decade after that, the GOP insisted that President Obama’s birth certificate was fake.
Today, the distortion of reality includes allegations that Fauci created COVID, Antifa stormed the Capitol, and Biden stole the election. In 2022, “you aren’t considered a proper Republican unless you hate facts.”
Again, it is difficult to “pinpoint the moment when the party began its descent into malignant madness, but the trajectory that led to this moment probably became irreversible under Ronald Reagan.”
Yes, I know that moderates insist the GOP obsession with lies is a recent development. They say that Republicans were all kindhearted Christians who loved America until Trump corrupted them. But to believe that sketchy theory, one must assume that conservatives were hypnotized by an incoherent conman into becoming anti-vaxx insurrectionists—pretty much overnight.
The truth is that Republicans were just waiting for Trump, or someone just as bigoted and authoritarian as him, to bedazzle them into a stupor of ignorance. They wanted a leader who would proclaim his love for the poorly educated. They craved someone who despised intellectuals. They demanded a president who was actively hostile to science.
They got all that, and so much more. Now, the Republican Party is “the culmination of a degradation that began a long time ago and is almost surely irreversible.”
People, organizations, and governments tend not to become vile all at once. Usually, it is a slow build-up of resentments and fears. It is a gradual morphing of lofty ideals into achievable goals. It is the promotion of belligerent voices over reasonable minds. The expediency of pure power and allure of victory is too much.
For the GOP, the deterioration began under Reagan. And the sad irony is that for conservatives who are obsessed with a mythical past, there is simply no going back.
Featured image: Former President Ronald Reagan (NARA/Reagan Library/Public Domain)